Palin doesn’t enter the picture until chapter twenty. Game Change claims that the McCain camp had pretty much settled on Lieberman until Lindsay Graham let slip that they were thinking of a pro-abortion VP. Then the Right erupted. The McCain campaign tried to bring in Karl Rove to sing Lieberman’s praises to rein in the Right, but Rove refused. He said it would be a terrible idea and would fracture the party. That left them with Palin and Pawlenty.
“Here’s my view of the politics of it,” Schmidt told McCain as they feasted on deep-fried burritos. “In any normal year, Tim Pawlenty’s a great pick, a no-brainer. But this isn’t a normal year. We need to have a transformative, electrifying moment in this campaign.”
That left Palin, and the rest is history.
Since I wasn’t there and have no idea what’s true and what’s not, I’m approaching the following with the assumption of truth, even the things that paint Palin in an unflattering light. Why? Well, I like to imagine that the worst case scenario is true, that way I can come up with a response to even the worst case scenario. And if things turn out to be not so bad, well… yay!
Game Change is based on accounts from campaign aides. In Palin’s case, most, if not all of the aides who talked to the authors did not like her. As I was reading the book, it struck me that Palin paints almost the same picture of the circumstances and events in Going Rogue, but from her perspective, obviously. I thought it would be interesting to put corresponding passages side by side. What happened from the aides perspective and from Palin’s perspective. Some of the passages are rather long, but necessary to get the full picture.
On the surprise nature of the Palin announcement and the problems it created -
Schmidt’s analogy was all too apt—and that was the problem. A successful space launch requires years of meticulous planning by scientists and engineers, stress-testing the components of the rocket, running through countless simulations, discovering every potential pitfall, implementing fail-safe systems. McCainworld had done precisely none of that with Palin.
Her record and background, like those of any nominee, presented political challenges, but none was insurmountable with sufficient preparation. But the swiftness of the vetting, the obsession with covertness, and the suddenness of the pick meant that the campaign was ill equipped to present and defend McCain’s choice.
From the moment Palin stepped onstage in Ohio, McCain headquarters was in turmoil. The phone lines were jammed with calls from reporters trying to figure out who she was. The McCain press shop was just as clueless as the journalists. There were no basic talking points in circulation or any of the materials from the Culvahouse vet, let alone some secret, comprehensive Palin briefing book.
Frantic staffers were reduced to Googling Palin’s name or hitting the State of Alaska website, which was constantly crashing due to overload. Meanwhile, Palin’s team was being assembled almost entirely on the fly. Her designated sherpa, the Republican operative Tucker Eskew, was hired on the spot that Friday after he sent an unprompted email to Nicolle Wallace with some ideas about how to put forward Palin. (Great! Yes! Have you got sixty-three days? Wallace wrote Eskew back.)
Palin’s traveling chief of staff, Andrew Smith, was first approached that Sunday; a friend of Schmidt’s, he had almost no political experience. Before the announcement, most of the members of Team Palin couldn’t have picked their new boss out of a lineup or properly pronounced her name.
Most campaigns prepare press briefing guides on their candidates—fat three-ring binders indexed into multiple categories, including a detailed bio, a history of accomplishments, policy positions, and copies of significant speeches and statements. The McCain campaign had evidently been very, very busy, and had not had time to compile any press material that explained who I was or what my record represented.
I was told later that the McCain communications team learned the name of John’s vice presidential pick at the same time everybody else in the country did.
And to make matters a bit more challenging, my family, friends, and political associates were under strict instructions not to talk to the media. So when the avalanche of press inquiries tumbled in, the national media folks had zero information. What they did report, patchy factoids cobbled together from the Internet and a few left-wing Alaskan bloggers, was usually wrong.
It was one lie after another—from rape kits to Bridges to Nowhere. All easy enough to disprove if the press had done its job. The campaign was immediately overwhelmed, though, and the Alaska GOP (still run by Randy Ruedrich) had apparently decided to sit this one out.
Very early in the campaign, Schmidt walked into our suite, escorting a tanned, kind of tired-looking guy in a suit. “Governor Palin, I’d like to introduce Andrew Smith,” Schmidt said. “He’ll be your campaign chief of staff.” I stood up and offered my hand. “Hi, Andrew, it’s great to meet you.”
“Tell the governor what you’ve done, Andrew,” Schmidt said. “What I’ve done?” Smith said in a thick East Coast accent. Schmidt eyed Smith and made a kind of “Go on, tell her” motion with his hands. “Yeah,” Schmidt said. “You’ve worked on the New York Stock Exchange.” Smith turned to me. “I’ve worked on the New York Stock Exchange.”
“Oooh…okay,” I said, smiling. “Well, it’s great to have you aboard. Have you managed campaigns before?” Andrew swiveled his head between Schmidt and me. Finally Schmidt answered for him: “No. He’s a financial guy.”
It seemed odd that we were being put in the hands of a man who had never run a campaign before, but Andrew seemed like a nice guy, and it wasn’t my call.
Those two accounts paint pretty much the same picture. Because of the McCain camp’s committment to secrecy and desire to shock and awe the world, they didn’t stop to prep some info for the rest of the campaign aides. No one knew anything about Palin outside of the few people who were in on the actual pick. And some guy who didn’t have any experience in politics was assigned to be the VP chief of staff. Shock and awe can have it’s drawbacks.
Now onto some of the more controversial things that got leaked to the press to slam Palin.
Briefing the candidate -
They sat Palin down at a table in the suite, spread out a map of the world, and proceeded to give her a potted history of foreign policy. They started with the Spanish Civil War, then moved on to World War I, World War II, the cold war, and what Scheunemann liked to call the “the three wars” of today—Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war on terror. The tutorial took up most of Monday, starting early and going late. When the teachers suggested breaking for lunch or dinner, the student resisted. “No, no, no, no, let’s keep going,” Palin said. “This is awesome.”
Palin was particular about her study aids. Early on, she told her team that she absorbed information best from five-by-seven index cards. With Scheunemann and Biegun, she became obsessive, wanting to put every pertinent piece of information, including the names of world leaders, on separate cards. Soon enough, she had multiple towering stacks of cards, which she referred to constantly, sitting quietly and poring over them, lugging them back to her room to memorize late at night. It quickly became a running joke on Team Palin: Don’t get between Sarah and her cards!
I don’t think there is a corresponding passage in Going Rogue for the first paragraph, I just thought it was interesting. Some people used passages like this to say Palin was stupid because they gave her a refresher course in history. Assuming that the account is accurate, I really don’t get the problem. I mean, I learned about the Spanish-American War in like tenth grade. I know general stuff, but I wouldn’t be willing to be grilled over my knowledge of it.
You go to high school, college, then get married and have a bunch of kids and twenty some years later become a Governor whose main focus is on oil and gas issues (among other things), pardon you for forgetting a few high school history details. The passage also indicates that Palin was, dare I say, “intellectually curious” enough to want to keep going; she was enjoying it.
The only thing I could find in regards to the second paragraph was Palin’s mention of endless stacks of index cards, but that was in context of prep for the debate.
During debate prep, I had been given stacks of five-by-eight index cards, bound in rubber bands, and we lugged them around everywhere. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to type them up, which I appreciated, but it was funny because on one side of each card, there was a question and on the other side there were a whole bunch of what most people would consider nonanswers:
FRONT OF CARD: What is America’s role in the world when it comes to global security?
BACK OF CARD: “Senator McCain and I are optimists. We love our country, and John has proven that more than any other leader in America.” Or… “I see the United States as a force for good in the world. As has already been so beautifully said, we’re a shining city on a hill.” Or… “We don’t apologize for who we are or what we stand for, even if we’re not perfect. We learn from our mistakes, but we don’t doubt our goodness.”
Right. But what is our role in the world and how does that relate to national security?
There were probably ten cards for a single topic with a different set of nonanswers on every one. So in the end I’m thinking, Okay, which nonanswer do you want me to give?
I kept a stack of the cards as a souvenir. I wish I had kept them all because I scribbled a lot of notes in the margins, probably some not fit for public consumption, such as “Just let me answer the question, dang it.”
On Palin’s teleprompter acting up during her convention speech -
Watching on a television in a room backstage, McCain went from pacing fretfully, to murmuring, “She’s really good,” to enthusing, “She’s incredible,” to grabbing Wallace and exulting, “Oh, my God, great job, she did a great job!”
Then Wallace told McCain that Palin’s achievement was even greater than he knew: her prompter had been malfunctioning throughout the speech; the text hadn’t paused during periods of applause, so a couple of lines were always missing from the screen when she resumed. “If that happens to me tomorrow night,” McCain replied, “we’re fucked.”
I practiced the speech with a teleprompter in a downstairs room at the hotel, which I found kind of peculiar because I didn’t think anyone would practice for hours with a teleprompter. My experience was that either you knew your speech and delivered it with notes, or you used a teleprompter because you didn’t know your speech. When I was governor, we used a teleprompter only a handful of times in front of a crowd. At the convention, my experience giving a speech the old-fashioned way, speaking from the heart, turned out to be a good thing.
I wasn’t too far into the speech when I realized technology had failed me. The upcoming lines of the speech were no longer appearing on the teleprompter. I knew the speech well enough that I didn’t need it, which was a good thing, since the machine didn’t sync up for the remainder of my time onstage.
On Obama’s reaction to her RNC speech -
Obama and his people certainly felt as though a house had been dropped on their heads. Since the moment Palin’s selection was announced, they had been struggling to calibrate a response to her and the variables she injected into the campaign. In Palin, the Obamans were confronting something with which they had no experience, a phenomenon so new and fascinating to the press and public that it eclipsed even their boss. For the first time, they understood how the Hillarylanders felt during much of the Democratic nomination fight—helpless, flummoxed, unable to break through.
Hillary had no intention of assisting in the trashing of Palin; she thought it would annoy her supporters. She also believed the pick might prove to be smart politics, and in this, she was seconded by her husband. When Democratic elites initially scoffed at Palin, ridiculing her outré tastes—the passion for weaponry, the hankering for mooseburgers—Bill Clinton went into Bubba mode, cautioning them not to underestimate her appeal. Don’t be so sure of yourselves, he said…. The reaction of the Democratic Establishment to Palin was wildly schizophrenic.
Sorry, no corresponding passage since, obviously, Palin wouldn’t know what was going on in Obama’s camp. I just liked it.
I’ll post more tomorrow, starting with the infamous Katie Couric interview.Tweet